Amendment 2 was a ballot initiative passed by Colorado voters in 1992 that prohibited the state from enacting antidiscrimination protections for gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. Voters in the state of Colorado set in motion a legal and constitutional fight when they approved Amendment 2. Passage of the controversial amendment set the stage for a national debate over the rights of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, while the ensuing legal struggle was the first legal case affecting homosexuals to reach the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court eventually declared the amendment unconstitutional, setting a precedent for the current struggle for LGBT rights in the United States.
In the early 1990s, the cities of Aspen, Boulder, and Denver announced citywide policies that prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation. This did not sit well with the socially conservative group Colorado for Family Values (CFV). CFV drafted and supported a statewide constitutional initiative, called Amendment 2, that would prohibit cities and institutions in Colorado from establishing antidiscrimination language for sexual orientation. In the 1992 election, Colorado voters approved the amendment by a 53–47 percent margin. The amendment’s passage meant that homosexuals living in Colorado were not protected from discrimination based on their sexual orientation.
Immediately after the passage of Amendment 2, gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, along with attorneys, advocates and allies, worked to strike it down. Calling Colorado “the hate state,” activists orchestrated a successful nationwide boycott of the state. Drawing national attention to the battle over Amendment 2, the boycott garnered celebrity endorsements from such stars as Whoopi Goldberg and Madonna and cost the state millions of dollars.
In 1993 an injunction was filed in Denver District Court. The injunction was approved by trial courts, and in July 1993 it was affirmed by the Colorado Supreme Court. Approval of the injunction meant that Amendment 2 could not take effect until the matter went through proper legal channels to determine if it was constitutional. Colorado attorney General Gale Norton appealed the decision, and the case was sent to the US Supreme Court in 1995. Boulder attorney Jean Dubofsky led the legal charge against Amendment 2. The case, Romer v. Evans, became the first in the nation to address protections from discrimination against homosexuals and bisexuals.
Those who argued that Amendment 2 was unconstitutional pointed out that it violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, which provided equal protection to all US citizens. The Supreme Court agreed. In a landmark decision, the court voted 6–3 that Amendment 2 was unconstitutional, and Colorado was forced to remove it from the books. This was a major victory for the rights of homosexuals and bisexuals, and Coloradans had set in motion a national change in the rights of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals.
At the time of its passage, Amendment 2 demonstrated that a slim majority of voters in Colorado would accept discrimination against gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. Even though the amendment was overturned, anti-gay sentiment continued to permeate Colorado and the West, reflected in the horrific murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student from Wyoming, in 1998. Nonetheless, the efforts of volunteers in Colorado and across the country to overturn Amendment 2 showed that the gay rights movement was gaining strength. The victory in Romer v. Evans paved the way for the expansion of gay rights, as demonstrated in 2015 by the US Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges.
Today in Colorado many cities and municipalities advocate for the right of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transsexuals, and other sexual minorities. However, the struggle for equality continues in Colorado and the United States as a whole. The 2018 decision by the US Supreme Court that a Colorado Springs baker can legally refuse to bake cakes for same-sex weddings shows that LGBT rights are far from secure. Similarly, the Colorado Springs–based group Focus on the Family continues to oppose LGBT rights, including same-sex marriage.
In Colorado and across the nation, the national conversation surrounding sexual equality has broadened to include the transgender community. The courts in Colorado and across the nation will likely take on cases related to transgender rights in the near future.